Court rules unauthorized tenant can be evicted

Subleasing called gray area of eviction moratorium

AN UNDOCUMENTED woman who was subleasing an apartment in Revere was evicted this week, illustrating one of the many gray areas in the state’s ban on evictions and foreclosures. 

Rosa, who asked that her last name not be used, moved into the apartment in April, paying $1,000 a month to the leaseholder who, in turn, paid the landlord. When the leaseholder disappeared in June, the landlords moved to evict Rosa, arguing that she was “a stranger” they discovered on the property in June and not an authorized tenant entitled to protection under the eviction moratorium. 

Rosa, who lost a restaurant job in May due to COVID-19 closures, claimed she was an authorized tenant because the landlord knew she was staying in the apartment and had been paying rent. She had given the leaseholder a check for $3,000 for her April 1 move-in. 

“The landlords knew me, saw me several times, and received rent from me,” said Rosa in a Spanish-language interview. “I don’t understand why they’re pretending not to know me when they took money from me.”

Housing Court Judge Michael Malamut on Tuesday ruled that Rosa had been living in the unit since April, but was not authorized to be there. He denied her request for more time to vacate the property and come up with rent money, which had not been paid since July.

On Wednesday, Rosa was evicted. With the help of advocacy group Chelsea Collaborative and her 14-year-old son, Rosa lugged her belongings to a storage unit the group is paying for. The group is also helping her find temporary shelter.

Chelsea Collaborative director Gladys Vega pleads for the statewide eviction ban to be extended as she assists a woman with her own eviction.

An attorney for the landlords, Manuella and Italo Anorga, did not reply to requests for comment.  

The statewide eviction moratorium, which is scheduled to expire October 17, halts most eviction and foreclosure proceedings unless a tenant poses a threat to the health and safety of others. Landlords are barred from charging late fees for nonpayment of rent and providing credit data to consumer reporting agencies if renters can prove within 30 days of a missed payment that their financial hardship is due to income lost as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Subleasing appears to be a gray area in the law. Joseph Michalakes, an attorney for Greater Boston Legal Services, said whether or not someone can be evicted for subleasing a unity during the ban depends on whether the judge considers the person an authorized or unauthorized tenant. 

Officials with City Life/Vida Urbana, a housing rights group, say they have heard from several people subletting units who have been evicted over the past few months in what the group calls “illegal evictions.” 

Norieliz Dejesus, director of policy and organizing for Chelsea Collaborative, said Rosa’s situation is very common in Chelsea. “Our families cannot afford the rent. Most landlords know that and they allow subleasing but most of the time it’s not recorded on paper,” she said. “Landlords can always lie and deny any knowledge of subleasing in their units and the tenants will be automatically deemed trespassers and evicted.”

Reps. Kevin Honan of Boston and Mike Connolly of Cambridge filed legislation in June to continue the moratorium for a year after the end of the governor’s declaration of a state of emergency. Their bill, the Guaranteed Housing Stability Act, would also let landlords defer mortgage payments for the same period, and those with fewer than 15 units would have priority for new unspecified state aid the legislation would make available to property owners. The bill would not provide protections for unauthorized tenants. 

“We cannot allow 20,000, 50,000, even 80,000 people to be evicted starting on October 17,” Connolly said at a State House housing rally on Wednesday. The House version of the eviction moratorium extension has 89 co-sponsors. Connolly and Honan’s bill is still pending before the Housing Committee. 

Gov. Charlie Baker has indicated he is not likely to extend the moratorium and US District Court Judge Mark Wolf, in a ruling rejecting a challenge to the eviction ban, indicated the moratorium has to end at some point. “What is constitutionally permissible for a limited period of time may become unpermissible at some point,” he said, 

Gladys Vega, executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative, participated in a Zoom call from the storage unit where Rosa’s belongings were being stored. “Please, I ask our Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, this is your resident, this woman has lived and worked in Revere for the last year. Support the housing stability bill and do not ignore the issues of housing in Revere and in Massachusetts. This is nothing compared to what will happen October 17, she said.